Tribal Money

Biden lawyer returns title to mineral rights to tribes | Your money

FARGO, ND (AP) — The Biden administration’s interior lawyer said in a notice released Friday that mineral rights under the original bed of the Missouri River belong to a tribal nation in North Dakota.

The 68-page memorandum released by the US Department of the Interior is contrary to a May 2020 Trump administration advisory concluding that the state is the legal owner of the submerged land below the river where it crosses the Fort Berthold reservation. . The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara nations had filed a lawsuit over the memo, which overturned an Obama administration opinion favorable to the nation, also known as the Three Affiliated Tribes.

“My decision today upholds decades of precedent that the Missouri River Bed belongs to the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara (MHA) Nation,” Interior Attorney Bob Anderson said in a statement. “Today’s action, based on a thorough historical and legal review, underscores the Department’s commitment to upholding its fiduciary and treaty obligations under the law.

At stake is an estimated $100 million in unpaid royalties and future payments that will likely come from oil drilling under the river, which was dammed by the federal government in the 1950s. This flooded more than a tenth of the Fort Berthold Reserve of 1,500 square miles (3,885 square kilometers) to create Lake Sakakawea.

The state argued that it became the owner of the river bed when North Dakota became a state in 1889, citing cases in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that submerged land was not not reserved by the federal government. The three affiliated tribes base their premise on three prior federal notices dating back to the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 which confirms their ownership of the riverbed.

Tribal leaders began their campaign in 2019 by taking to social media and writing opinion pieces asking heads of state to support tribal property rights, much like they did during the legislative session of 2019 concerning an oil and tax agreement with the tribes.

MHA Nation President Mark Fox said the new opinion corrects “a grave injustice” and the tribes are eager to work with the government to protect the “tribal nation’s historic rights to the bed of the Missouri River.” .

This is the fourth time the Interior Department has addressed the issue since January 2017, when attorney Hilary Tompkins, appointed by President Barack Obama, asserted tribal ownership. Attorney Daniel Jorjani, appointed by President Donald Trump, ruled in favor of the state in 2020. Jorjani’s the review was dropped in March 2021after President Joe Biden took office.

“It’s been a long journey for my clients at MHA Nation,” said attorney Timothy Q. Purdon, of Minneapolis-based Robins Kaplan. “But since I was brought in to represent the tribe more than two and a half years ago, the MHA Nation and its leaders have never wavered in their commitment to righting this wrong and protecting the historic bond of their populates with the Missouri River.

A spokesman for Republican Gov. Doug Burgum said the governor is not commenting on cases still pending in court.

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